Emotional Time Travelling
Spiritual practices in most religions revolve around being present - meditation, prayer, chanting. In my opinion, spirituality does not require identifying with any religion at all, but what is interesting to me is that people everywhere over centuries seem to have realized one thing: you become present through these practices, connected with something bigger than you. And that eventually leads to a place that connects you with yourself. This connection is a fertile ground for clarity, forgiveness, mercy, for letting go, for love and healing. It is in the now. When you are truly present and in alignment with yourself, you can see whatever challenges you are facing in a different light, because it allows you to reflect on what you’re experiencing and what you’re feeling. This kind of reflection is a form of emotional awareness, the ability to recognize, name and make sense of your own emotions - and those of others.
The topic of “emotional awareness” has shown up in various ways in my life recently which inspired me to write this blog. I have experienced the importance of emotional awareness in everyday converstions, in arguments, I read about similar ideas in some of the books I am currently reading and finally - a few days ago - I watched one of the videos of the online course I am taking to become a Certified Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT*) Practitioner on emotional awareness and “Emotional Time Travelling”.
According to CBT, our feelings are a result of what we focus on. Emotional Time Travelling can be referred to as travelling to past experiences in our memories and to possible future scenarios in our imagination inside of our minds. In other words, focusing on what has already happened or on what might happen. This kind of reflection on the past or the future directly impacts the way you feel now.
Consequently, the negative side of “Emotional Time Travelling” translates to experiencing stress in the present, while you may be safe and free in this very moment. Stress is the result of perceiving something as a threat, because the human brain does not differentiate between an imagined or an actual real threat. So, the impacts on your emotions, your body, your health are the same, as if you were still under acute attack - finding yourself in an overwhelming scenario that traumatizes you, as your brain does not know what to do.
The moment you time travel emotionally, you feel whatever you felt back then. This is true for fear as it is with regards to sadness, abandonment, shame, guilt, hurt. All the pain that made you love yourself less and tell yourself lies about the world and your own worth.
Truthfully, it is not possible to be afraid of a moment in the past, because it has already happened, but you can, of course, be afraid of the past repeating itself in the future. Life is only happening now and the only moment you experience challenges is now. You’ll come to understand that problems in the form of emotions often show up in your life when you travel back to the past or throw yourself into your imagination of the future - while you’re neither in the past, nor in the future - you are here.
The tricky part is that trauma and unresolved stressful events from the past can leave an imprint on your subconscious that takes you on an emotional trip. A trip that you haven’t actually booked. A trip that can keep you in a reactive loop of responses, both physically and emotionally. Sadness, depression and addictions as well as eating disorders are all incredibly complex issues. Often though, they are rooted in things that have once been lost. Anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders are closely tied to the fear of the worst case scenario happening in the future. Therefore, anxiety walks hand in hand with fear. All of that may seem bigger than you. But are you caught on this journey forever? Not necessarily.
You can change the pattern of negative thinking through practice. Practicing emotional awareness in the moment is where healing begins. You can get off the train, if you accept that the past does not equal the future. You can get off the train, if you question yourself, your world. What are you feeling? And why are you feeling it? Can you identify the trigger? That trigger is your door. As you go on, you will walk through many doors. It is impossible to always expect the best possible outcomes, but by developing emotional awareness and by being present, you train your ability to stay in the moment like a muscle and free yourself from travelling to the past and future. Emotional awareness can be your spiritual practice. You don’t need a church to connect with yourself. You need to be present.
I feel deeply connected when I meditate and journal. Both help me in my self-reflection, but also in finding the stillness in order to grow out of my negative thinking patterns and the past. It helps me have faith in life, in myself. And faith is the opposite of fear. (Which I suspect might be the reason why many find shelter in the religions they subscribe to.)
Once you develop faith in life, trust it a little bit. The more faith you can have in life and in yourself, the more excited you become about your very own life. I believe this is one of the most important gifts you can make yourself: to love yourself through the adversities you face and regardless of those that you have been through in the past. It enables you to let go, forgive, and heal.
*CBT is a solution-oriented form of psychotherapy that aims to effectively support anyone struggling with mental health challenges by challenging destructive and dysfunctional patterns of emotion, thought and behavior (Psychology Today).
“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”. Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/cognitive-behavioral-therapy